This year’s National Vocation Awareness Week allows me to highlight the remarkable health of the seminaries that form our future priests. In the current wake of scandal, anger and sadness over evil deeds by a few of our priests and bishops (one is too many, of course), the schools of study and formation that shape our future shepherds are doing well.
First, I speak from my own personal experience. I entered the St. Paul Seminary at the University of St. Thomas in 2004.
Recall that this was just two years after the original 2002 sexual abuse scandals in Boston. The clouds of shock and sadness hung heavy in the air. Along with much encouragement, I had people asking: “Are you sure that’s the way you want to go? Do you realize what’s happening in the church right now?” I thought I did, and my call came with such confirming grace that I entered.
Needless to say, I walked into seminary with my eyes wide open. Was there anything I needed to be worried about? I spent two years in St. Paul and another four in Rome, and I can honestly say I was surrounded by some of the healthiest, holiest and brightest priest and lay faculty around.
Yes, there are likely still seminary environments that look past issues of anger or addiction or past personal trauma, but I’m so grateful that the seminaries we use are environments pursuing Christ’s call to form servant leaders.
Second, our seminaries are responding to increasingly complex psychological and social needs. In decades past, many of the habits required of priests began in the home. Prayer, selflessness and a focused work ethic were just part of “growing up.”
Today’s culture, especially as seen in fractured family environments, doesn’t always reinforce these habits and leaves much of this work to seminary formation as well.
Gladly, our seminaries are leading the way in psychological screening and counseling, training in emotional intelligence and direct discussion of the healing of past family wounds. This provides the best foundation for the pastoral, spiritual and theological dimensions of priestly formation.
We currently have men studying at St. John Vianney and St. Paul Seminary at St. Thomas, Immaculate Heart of Mary at St. Mary’s in Winona, and the North American College in Rome.
This high level of formation certainly comes at a cost and I know how many of you support our seminarians through prayer and financial donations. Please keep in mind that the Diocesan Annual Appeal helps make this formation possible — along with much of the work of the Vocation Office. Your generosity helps ensure our seminaries remain solid houses of formation in a time when healthy priests are most needed.
Father Scott Pogatchnik is director of vocations for the Diocese of St. Cloud. He is also rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral and pastor of St. Augustine Parish in St. Cloud.